By John McGaulley
My family was privileged to find a home at Cliff Haven at the time we did.
During the 1960’s to the 80’s, Cliff Haven – the lake, beach, Woodcliff, skating on the lake, the Cliff Haven Park was a child’s paradise. We could roam all over Woodcliff and across Rt. 9 behind the stone school house where there is a beautiful walk along huge rock formations. Now all of these lands are privately owned.
We had a 12’ row boat named “Sherby”. The color was psychedelic. It made the graffiti on the NYC subways look like a Picasso. The kids rowed, pushed, jumped in and out from the pier to the beach. Recently my oldest daughter said, “Dad, do you remember when you told us not to take the Sherby to Crab Island? We never did. But you never said we couldn’t go to Valcour!!” Can anyone with children who knows the lake imagine five young kids rowing a 12’ boat from Cliff Haven to Valcour?
The 4th of July parade, led by a South Plattsburgh Fire Department truck around Cliff Haven brought out all the kids (and adults) dressed up in their patriotic clothes, and their bicycles!! We always ended up at the beach for a few refreshments.
A summer program of swimming at the beach offered by the Cliff Haven Homeowners Association (CHHA) was probably the activity most enjoyed by the kids. That’s where many kids learned to swim! The highlight of the beach season -and the end – was a nearly two mile swim to Crab Island for those who chose (even some adults joined in). Neighbors with boats followed the line of swimmers all the way. All had a good time and we didn’t lose anyone! In addition to swimming there were arts & crafts and whatever games the Okids and councilors could dream up. With the end of town funding, the beach program withered away.
My wife, Nancy, equipped our six year old daughter in 1969 with everything she needed for a day at the beach, including lunch. Nancy sent her on her way by herself walking about 6/10 mile to the beach and home. Many other kids did the same. Such was Cliff Haven in those days.
The Jennings brothers: Tom (pictured), Mike and Howard Jr. were constantly on the ice.
Hockey was a big item in the 60’s — 80’s. The boys would scrape out a rink on the lake and all would join in a game. They also used the basketball courts in Cliff Haven park. These kids graduated to high school – St. John’s and Peru – and formed the nucleus of St. John’s hockey team, an early powerhouse. From there they went to PSC and were the genesis of their successful hockey program. The community also was well represented in little league baseball and softball.
I bought a pool table from a pool hall in Quebec one year. When the boys got wind of it, I thought that they came around here to visit my daughters — it became the center of activity. Our cellar was open. All they had to do was knock on the door and enter the hatchway — a lot of them we didn’t even know! The only restrictions were no drinking, no fights, no smoking, and don’t puncture the ceiling with the cue sticks!! It was all good fun and memories were made. After we got rid of the pool table, the room looked good until we checked the ceiling.
How did we come to this happy home? After living on Long Island for a number of years, Nancy and I had decided that we wanted a less congested and safer place to bring up our four daughters. We moved back to Plattsburgh on Leonard Avenue in 1957, but missed living on the water as Nancy had on Long Island. We wanted a home on the Lake. Our timing was right.
Just a few years earlier in 1955, the construction of the new Plattsburgh Air Force Base and the activation of the 380th Bombardment Wing was big news. A developer responded to the need for housing by the airmen and their families. He arranged financing to take control of the former Catholic Summer School of America properties that sprawled over the land known as Cliff Haven.
By 1960, most of the land south of Plattsburgh Avenue was vacant except for some the old paved streets left by the Catholic Summer School. A few houses the developer built stood south of Valcour Avenue. More buildings were being framed up on Valcour in 1962, but the developer had financial difficulties and pulled out. That left Albany State Bank to finish those homes. We were the first family to build our own home there and moved in at that time.
The small community was made up of Air Force families, retired military, educators from Peru and Plattsburgh State as well as local people. My memory tells me that everyone seemed to get along.
To my knowledge, there never was a fence between the five houses along the lakefront properties on Lakeside Court. When the kids were young, neighbors crossed freely from one house to the other respecting any activity in a neighbor’s yard.
Early families formed the Cliff Haven Homeowners Association (CHHA) and tried to acquire two beach lots from Harry Alpert. We sought to include a provision in the deed that a family had to be a member of the Association in order to use the beach. Mr. Alpert turned us down as he was looking for a tax deduction, and a “dues” clause would prevent a deduction.
Mr. Alpert bought the remaining undeveloped land and completed the infrastructure. He bought and sold lots, and maybe built houses, I don’t remember. With that activity, Cliff Haven became what you see today.
The Board of Directors of CHHA is very active and, I believe, does a great job in keeping Cliff Haven a great place to live. They provide many outings a year for both the kids and adults. Any family can reserve the beach for an outing. Some of our residents choose not to become dues paying members of CHHA, thus limiting support for activities that benefit all residents.